There’s a reputation for nonfiction podcasts being one of two breeds: 1. heavy, intense, serious podcasts hell-bent on making you smarter and more worldly; or 2. over-the-top obnoxious jokes. Song Salad is the perfect midway between these two different genres. It’s a podcast filled with laughs while still being interesting and educational, all working with a brilliantly unique structure:
WHAT’S A SONG SALAD?
We’re so glad you asked. A Song Salad is a short song about a random topic in a random style of music. Our show documents the writing process for these strange songs and even teaches you a bit about music along the way.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN ‘RANDOM’?
Each week, we randomize our list of 500 music genres to pick a style, and then we hit “Random Article” on Wikipedia to get the topic! We learn a little about both, and then smash them other to make a song. It leads to some pretty wild combinations—like a grindcore song about the fjords of Greenland. Or a ska song about a German model train museum. Or a Celtic pop song about windmills.
In Song Salad, hosts Shannon Deep and Scott Wasserman share the kind of lighthearted, earnest humor that makes podcasts like Wonderful! or Spirits such delightful listens. Song Salad feels a bit like podcast comfort food, contrary to its name: it’s such a genuinely funny, kind, silly podcast it’s hard to listen without beaming. Deep and Wasserman have the effortless timing and dynamic of close friends without the rampant inside jokes or audience exclusion that haunts so many other conversational podcasts. The hosts seem either acutely aware of how to balance their personalities and friendship with making good audio, or they’re just incredibly talented at striking that balance well.
Song Salad‘s structure goes hand in hand with its hosts personalities in what makes the podcast such a standout. In Song Salad, Deep and Wasserman pick a random music genre and then a random article on Wikipedia. From there, the two discuss both the history of the music genre and the Wikipedia article before starting the writing process. This section of the podcast is perfectly educational and strange: the Wikipedia articles are usually filled with strangeness, as random Wikipedia articles are wont to be, but the real meat is the history of the musical genres. A recent episode, for instance, discussed the history of bubblegum pop, which is apparently not just named for its tooth-aching sweetness but its actual ties to marketing candy. This segment is educational, but thanks to Deep and Wasserman, it’s easy to get excited about extremely specific music genres and whatever Wikipedia decides to provide.
The last half of the episode focuses on actually combining the two randomly-generated pieces of information together. These combinations are usually hilarious: take, for instance, the stoner rock/metal song about the Counsels of Wisdom, a piece of “Babylonian wisdom literature.” What’s more impressive about the songs, though, is how well they’re made. This podcast isn’t a lot of information and conversation that culminates to people on a guitar and a tambourine singing a silly song. While the lyrics–written by Deep–are usually silly, the songs themselves are shockingly well-produced by Wasserman. Each genre is recreated with as much authenticity as the hosts are able to provide, using specific features from the designated genre the help guide their composition. It’s shocking how easily Wasserman can switch between these genres, sounding perfectly at home (both vocally and instrumentally) in each of them. With over 100 episodes as of writing, I can’t fathom why these two haven’t put out several albums of the songs they’ve made on the show.
Song Salad isn’t about a salad in a traditional sense, of course: it’s about bringing several different ingredients and tossing them together, just in song form. The branding here is tertiary, but it does make for some funny, kitschy features both in the show itself and in its community. The hosts’ randomization of each feature for the song is called a “salad spinner,” and is announced with a hammy chomping sound effect. The podcast’s Facebook group is called the “Produce Section.” It’s another level of taking something seemingly random and making it cohesive that the show excels at so well.
I usually like to include critical feedback when reviewing podcasts, but I found myself coming up completely short with Song Salad. It’s as show I’ve only been familiar with for a few weeks but has already become a strong favorite. It’s a podcast that does something different, that perfectly combines its conversational qualities with its educational qualities, a podcast with hosts as charming as their structure and concept.